The 43 best things to do in Toronto this fall

Fall is not cancelled – and there’s a big emphasis on local artists and musicians, public art and hybrid events


There are a lot more things to do in Toronto this fall than this time last year. Pandemic restrictions are still in place, meaning big events with international stars are subject to change. But the unique situation means event organizers are putting a big emphasis on local musicians and artists, distanced outdoor experiences and hybrid festivals.

From haunted houses to venue reopenings and and “immersive” art, here are NOW critics’ picks for the best art and culture events happening in the city this season.


Unmasking The Pandemic: From Personal Protection To Personal Expression

Masks are hot in the culture wars – and now they’re art objects. This ROM exhibition features more than 100 face coverings made by artists, designers and makers from around the world in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Among them are works by 40 Canadian makers, including 15 Indigenous designers and artists. To February 21. Royal Ontario Museum (100 Queen’s Park). Free. rom.on.ca

As You Like It

Cultural provocateur Cliff Cardinal (Huff, Cliff Cardinal’s CBC Special) takes Shakespeare’s comedy and radically adapts it in this intriguing show, which launches Crow’s Theatre’s new season. September 22-October 10. Crow’s Guloien Theatre (345 Carlaw). crowstheatre.com

The Gladstone returns to Queen West

The Gladstone Hotel is reopening under a name that pays homage to an engraving on the Queen West landmark’s exterior: Gladstone House. New owners Streetcar Developments and Dream Unlimited have renovated the 132-year-old building and are inviting people in to stay, to eat at the Bistro + Bar (featuring new executive chef Richard Singh) and check out the 55 local artists throughout the hotel and studio space. The Melody Bar event space and the return of Drag Brunch are still to come. Reopening September 22. 1214 Queen West. gladstonehouse.ca

dance: made in canada / fait au canada 

The biennial dance festival includes everything from a new podcast to an online dance film series (curated by frequent NOW contributor Kathleen Smith). But the centrepiece is inTO focus – three nights of live performances by Blue Ceiling Dance, Kendra Epik, SaMel Tanz and Lua Shayenne Dance Company. September 23-25. High Park Amphitheatre (1873 Bloor West). dancemadeincanada.ca

The Garden Of Vanished Pleasures

Garden Of Vanished Pleasures

In his final years, filmmaker and queer rights activist Derek Jarman found solace from the AIDS epidemic in his garden. Director Tim Albery has used that as the inspiration for this world premiere theatrically streamed event by Soundstreams, featuring lyrics by Cecilia Livingston and music by Donna McKevitt, including texts from Jarman’s journals. September 23-October 10 at 8 pm (no Mondays). soundstreams.ca

RendezBrews brings craft beer outside

Just because the leaves are changing colour doesn’t mean you can’t squeeze in a few more patio pints. The Toronto Craft Beer Festival is taking over RendezViews at John and Richmond, one of the city’s biggest and best new outdoor bars. The festival will feature 40 to 50 craft beer varieties and take place over five timed sessions. September 23-26. RendezViews (229 Richmond West). Tickets start at $21. tcbf.ca

+(dix)

Choreographer Guillaume Côté’s piece inspired by the myth of Odysseus and the idea of home will be livestreamed from Harbourfront Centre Theatre as part of the Fall For Dance North festival. September 23 at 7 pm (can be watched until September 29). ffdnorth.com 

Long Winter’s Together Apart

Long Winter went virtual last year, but it’s back for a big 10th anniversary year, extending into fall with a series called Together Apart. The art/music series starts on September 24 and 25 with a pair of outdoor concerts on the roof of the Garrison with Fiver, LAL, OBUXUM and more. It picks back up on November 26 and 27 at St. Anne’s church with Owen Pallett, New Chance and others. There’s also a conference examining the role of DIY culture during the pandemic. September 24-25 at the Garrison (1197 Dundas West) and November 26-27 at St. Anne’s (270 Gladstone). Advance tickets $15 or pwyc. ticketscene.ca

The TSO performs at CityView Drive-In
Samuel Engelking

TSO at the Drive-In

With the return of in-person events, drive-in concerts are rarer this season, but the Toronto Symphony Orchestra is returning to CityView Drive-In after selling out the venue last fall. The orchestra’s first live events in nearly a year take place over two weekends: Mozart & Martines should satiate classical lovers and Pride Together is aimed at anyone itching to hear symphonic versions of queer anthems like Madonna’s Vogue. September 24-25 & October 1-2. 20 Polson. Doors 6:30 pm. $80-$220. tso.ca

Blindness

The Donmar Warehouse’s incredible, immersive sound installation based on José Saramago’s dystopian novel sold out its run in August, so Mirvish has brought it back for another month. Presented on the stage of the Princess of Wales, it’s not to be missed. September 24-October 24. Princess of Wales Theatre (300 King West). mirvish.com

BigArtTO

The bad news is the city has postponed Nuit Blanche to 2022. The good news is what was supposed to be Toronto’s year of public art is getting a proper push with this festival that will see artworks by visual artists and animation students projected onto local buildings and landmarks. Look out for works in Guild Park, the Distillery District, the Etobicoke Civic Centre, Wychwood Barns and more. To November 27. Various venues. Free. toronto.ca/BigArtTO

The Axis Club activates

Toronto’s music scene mourned when Mod Club closed during the pandemic, but the space is back with a new name and identity. The Little Italy club has a shiny LED makeover and a growing schedule of events (despite a couple of COVID postponements). If you’re looking for a couple of fall picks, try Indigenous singer/songwriter Ruby Waters on October 14, indie rockers the Zolas on November 17 and Crown Lands on December 1. September 24 onwards. Axis Club (722 College). theaxisclub.com

Yorkville Murals 2021

The high-end shopping enclave gets colourful with a three-day mural festival that’s part of the city’s public art push. Cumberland Street will shut down for a day-long block party, and there will be art talks, an exhibition of prints by American artist Shepard Fairey and a film screening. September 24-26. 99 Yorkville. Free. yorkvillemurals.com

Good Things To Do

If you’ve been stressed out (and who hasn’t?), treat yourself to Rumble Theatre’s imaginative and interactive online experience for groups of 12, a meditation on goodness, tenderness and generosity. September 27-October 2. nightwoodtheatre.net

Theatre Centre Digital Residency Showings

The live arts hub and incubator presents three nights of Zoom offerings by their residency artists including Brandon Ash-Mohammed, Anand Rajaram, Thomas McKechnie, PJ Prudat and Jonathan Seinen, Neema Bickersteth and Nikki Shaffeeullah, Nehal El-Hadi and Adam Lazarus. September 27-29 at 7 pm. theatrecentre.org

The Garrison comes ALIVE

Like so many other local music venues, Dundas West stalwart the Garrison has been dark throughout the pandemic, but it’s finally coming back to life with the ALIVE series. Most of the shows are only $5 and they’re all buzzy artists from Toronto and Montreal. It gets started on September 28 and 29 with a pair of concerts from rapper Cadence Weapon. Other fall shows include Hot Garbage, Odonis Odonis, Hubert Lenoir and much more. The series continues well into the new year. September 28-March 12. The Garrison (1197 Dundas West). Most shows $5. showclix.com

Two dancers with sand and projections in the show Touch
Courtesy of Lighthouse Immersive

Touch

Dancer/choreographer Guillaume Côté and multimedia artist Thomas Payette have created a live, immersive work for two dancers, with projections that respond to both the dancers and the audience. September 29-October 17. Toronto Star Building (1 Yonge). artbylighthouse.com

GTA21 at the MOCA

When the pandemic hit, art world watchers predicted a bigger emphasis on local at big institutions. It’s happening. The Museum of Contemporary Art reopens with the inaugural Greater Toronto Art 2021 (GTA21), a triennial survey show featuring newly commissioned works by 21 buzzy artists and art collectives, including Jennifer Rose Sciarrino, Walter Scott, Aaron Jones, Julia Dault and Pamila Matharu. September 29-January 9. 158 Sterling. moca.ca

The Christie Pits Riot

Sam Rosenthal and Drew Carnwath’s original radio drama podcast is set during the infamous Toronto riot of August 16, 1933. The immersive show can be enjoyed at home or experienced as a walking tour through sections of downtown Toronto. Measha Brueggergosman has created music and also voices a role in the ensemble work. From September 30. hogtownexperience.com

UNCOVERED 2021: The Music Of Dolly Parton

The Musical Stage Company’s annual fall concert series includes Jully Black, Sara Farb, Beau Dixon, Hailey Gillis and others performing  Parton classics. September 30-October 2 at Koerner Hall. musicalstagecompany.com

October

Legends Of Horror at Casa Loma

This physically distanced walk through the gardens and dimly lit tunnels of Casa Loma includes scary creatures and horrifying 3D imagery projections. October 1-31. Casa Loma (1 Austin Terrace). legendsofhorror.ca

Picasso: Painting The Blue Period

Originally due to open at the AGO last summer, this show covering what is widely considered to be a defining time in the Spanish painter’s career goes on display this fall. From 1901 to 1904, Picasso primarily created monochromatic works in shades of blue and blue-green while living in Paris. This exhibition will feature around 70 works and is the first major Picasso show organized by a Canadian art institution since 1964. October 6-January 16. Art Gallery of Ontario (317 Dundas West). ago.ca

An interactive light display is opening at the Bentway
Courtesy of the Bentway

Pulse Topology

Art and Instagram meet under the Gardiner Expressway. This interactive light and sound installation is taking over a storage space at Exhibition Place that’s never been open to the public before. Created by Mexican-Canadian media artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Pulse Topology features 3,000 hanging lights that react in real time to heartbeats using “touchless biometric sensors.” October 2-31. 250 Fort York. Free. thebentway.com/pulsetickets

Fall For Dance North: Signature Program

The dance festival’s highlight is this three-part performance film directed by Indo-Canadian filmmaker Vikram Dasgupta. Included are works by Aszure Barton and Mthuthuzeli November, as well as the Nrityagram Dance Ensemble performing from the Nrityagram Dance Village in Bangalore. October 13 at 7 pm (available until October 19). ffdnorth.com

Luminato

Typically an internationally focused festival, the multi-disciplinary event Luminato is going local this year, with a mix of online and in-person programming under the theme Love Letters To Toronto. Highlights include a conversation between photographer Edward Burtynsky and climate activist Allie Rougeot; Director X’s political dance film New Monuments featuring choreography by Tanisha Scott; concert series Guided By Starlight and Christine Brubaker’s reworking of Shakespeare’s Henry V set during the G20 protests in Toronto in June 2010. October 13-21. Various venues. Free. luminatofestival.com

Toronto After Dark Film Festival

The 15th annual horror, sci-fi and action movie festival is happening online and IRL this year. Films will be streamable across Canada. The full lineup will be announced in early October. October 14-17. Scotiabank Theatre (259 Richmond West). torontoafterdark.com

The Music Gallery’s X Avant Festival

The Music Gallery’s annual festival of new and experimental music is back with a hybrid format this year subtitled “You In Mind.” The first X Avant from new artistic director Sanjeet Takhar, the festival aims to rethink the “all are welcome here” mentality of community into a more active form of engagement. Events include Listen, a spoken word collaboration with RISE, plus a spotlight on Bonjay’s Alanna Stuart, an eight-hour drone day called Process and an Indigenous dance class called Embody. October 14-17. 918 Bathurst and online. $10-$15 per event. musicgallery.org

Night of the Living Drag tour poster

Night Of The Living Drag

This zombie-themed live tour is the first RuPaul’s Drag Race show to come to town since before the pandemic. Season 7 winner and burlesque artist Violet Chachki is on hosting duties, and season 13 stars Gottmik, Rose and Kandy Muse are in the lineup. These drag tours tend to be bare bones production-wise, but this year producers are promising to up their set design and lighting game. October 16. Meridian Hall (1 Front East). $55-$85. ticketmaster.ca.

Venus Fest Five

Last year, Venus Fest took the challenge of virtual festivals and created something new and unique – a series of original one-off videos pairing musical and visual artists. The feminist-focused festival is doing it again, but this time you can also go see them in an immersive gallery installation. The lineup includes artists like Polaris Prize-winning rapper Haviah Mighty paired with artist Roya DelSol and singer/songwriter Charlotte Cornfield with Julia Hendrickson, plus Ah-Mer-Ah-Su, Eve Parker Finley and more. October 16-30. The Plumb (1655 Dufferin) and on happin.app. Free-$25. venusfest.net

Follies In Concert

Stephen Sondheim’s 1971 show about the reunion of Ziegfeld follies-type showgirls at a theatre that’s about to be demolished is considered one of the best musicals of all time. Director Richard Ouzounian has assembled an all-star Canadian cast for this gala concert version, including Cynthia Dale, Ma-Anne Dionisio, Eric McCormack and Marcus Nance. October 16-17. Koerner Hall (273 Bloor West). rcmusic.com

Desire Under The Elms

Eugene O’Neill’s plays aren’t often revived, so the Shaw Festival’s rare production of his scorching 1924 family drama – inspired by the Greek tragedy of Phaedra, Hippolytus and Theseus – should be fascinating viewing. Shaw’s artistic director Tim Carroll is at the helm. October 16-December 12. Jackie Maxwell Studio Theatre (Niagara on-the-Lake). shawfest.com

Toronto International Festival of Authors

The annual literary fest goes virtual again, but the full lineup has yet to be announced. However, there will be a high-profile post-festival talk with two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Colson Whitehead, who will chat about his latest book, Harlem Shuffle, with Toronto-based writer and critic Randy Boyagoda. November 17. $38 (includes copy of book). Festival runs October 21-31. festivalofauthors.ca

imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival

The 22nd-annual festival of Indigenous screen arts features a robust program of 145 works, including Danis Goulet’s Night Raiders and Rhayne Vermette’s Ste. Anne, two films that made a big splash at TIFF. Other events we have our eyes on include Caroline Monnet’s Bootlegger, Trevor Mack’s coming-of-age film Portraits From A Fire and a panel with the cast of Reservation Dogs. Screenings are both in-person and online. October 19-24. imagineNATIVE.org

Acts Of Faith

Factory Theatre presents a rebroadcast of its livestreamed production of David Yee’s solo play about a young Zambian woman (the electric Natasha Mumba) who gets mistaken for a prophet. A critical success last year, it’s not to be missed. October 20-23. factorytheatre.ca

A black-and-white photo of Feist singing into a microphone lying on a stage
Goodchild Richardson

Feist contains Multitudes

Leslie Feist will perform new material at a series of intimate concerts this fall. Multitudes is billed as a concert residency with an “unconventional production” with audiences of 200 people a night. Feist conceived Multitudes in reaction to the pandemic, and bills the show as a “reclaiming of the stage.” She will perform in the round surrounded by the audience and custom 18-point D&B Soundscape immersive audio. A new album is on the way eventually, and this is the best (and first) way to hear it. October 20-30. Meridian Hall (1 Front East). $125. tolive.com

Immersive Klimt: Revolution

The creative team behind Immersive Van Gogh (producers Lighthouse Immersive, artist Massimiliano Siccardi and composer Luca Longobardi) are readying another digital art show based on the work of Austrian symbolist master Gustav Klimt. Whereas Van Gogh emphasized thick, post-Impressionist brush strokes and landscapes, this experience promises to mix Klimt’s classical, graphic and sensual modern imagery, as well as art by his contemporaries Egon Schiele and Koloman Moser. October 21-November 28. Toronto Star Building (1 Yonge). immersiveklimt.com

Gianni Schicchi

The Canadian Opera Company presents a digital performance of the Puccini comic opera, directed by the UK’s Amy Lane. October 30 at 7:30 pm (accessible for six months afterwards at coc.ca/watch). coc.ca

November

Mixtape

Writer, performer and musician Zorana Sadiq presents a solo show featuring music from several genres and sounds that add up to a memoir and scientific enquiry. November 9-28 at Crow’s Theatre’s Guloien Theatre (345 Carlaw). crowstheatre.com

Fan Expo Canada

The scaled-down pop culture fest is going ahead, but capping tickets at 25,000. As usual, cosplay, anime and gaming will be a big focus. Cult celebs on this year’s bill include Star Trek’s George Takei and William Shatner, Justice League’s Ray Fisher, DC Comics publisher Jim Lee and the stars of Wynonna Earp, among others. October 22-24. Metro Toronto Convention Centre, South Building (222 Bremner). $35-$159. fanexpohq.com

Drake makes History

After years of speculation, Live Nation’s new arts venue in the Beaches is finally opening. It’s a surprise collaboration with Drake, and it will fit 2,500 people (post-COVID), putting it on par with Rebel nightclub. The first shows on the calendar are All Time Low on October 22 and Allan Rayman on October 23, with later dates from big acts like Kaytranada, BadBadNotGood, Thundercat, July Talk and more. But we hear rumours of an A-list performance before that. October 22 onwards. History (1663 Queen East). ticketmaster.ca

Cast Iron

Lisa Codrington’s Governor General’s Award-nominated play about a Barbados-born woman looking back on her life has been reimagined as a live audio experience. Obsidian Theatre’s Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu directs the Dora Award-winning actor Alison Sealy-Smith in six live performances. November 19-28. obsidiantheatre.com, factorytheatre.ca

Mustafa
Samuel Engelking

Mustafa performs at Massey Hall on December 1.

Massey Hall returns

The long hiatus of the city’s most legendary venue was because of a massive renovation, not COVID, so it’s even more exciting to see it coming back to life. The first performer is Gordon Lightfoot (one of the most prolific Massey Hall performers), then Buffy Sainte-Marie with the Sadies. Those shows are in late November, but the fall shows are just the beginning. There’s, oh, 40 or so shows already announced including Mustafa, Broken Social Scene, Courtney Barnett, Donovan Woods, Tanya Tagaq and many more. First shows November 25-27. 178 Victoria. masseyhall.mhrth.com

Mozart’s Requiem

This digital collaboration between the Canadian Opera Company and Against the Grain Theatre incorporates interviews with frontline medical workers and communities directly affected by the pandemic with a performance of Mozart’s haunting choral masterpiece. November 27 at 7:30 pm (accessible for six months afterwards at coc.ca/watch). coc.ca

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